Cultural body dysmorphia
Posted Monday 27 September 2010
A guest post from Zarathustra
In my Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) clinic we have a nurse specialist in eating disorders. She does a lot of work with kids with anorexia, trying to promote a healthy body image and encouraging them to move away from excessive thinness. And she's good at it too. The kids love her, and she's genuinely helped a lot of very unwell teenagers.
She may be a good eating disorders nurse, but she's spectacularly rubbish at taking her own advice. Despite having a healthy BMI and frankly, looking stunning, I still regularly find her flicking through dieting magazines. She'll regularly mutter about needing to "lose weight" despite ample evidence to the contrary, and she can't eat a biscuit without thinking she needs to spend an extra hour in the gym to compensate.
I could speculate that she's a kind of "wounded healer" figure - someone who's able to help others by virtue of suffering from the same affliction. But I've never seen any sign in her of having a diagnosable eating disorder. One could argue that her body-image is somewhat distorted, but mental illness is supposed to be a deviation from the norm. In recent years rampant body-insecurity, particularly among women, has become...well, normal. Have we become culturally body-dysmorphic, to an extent that those whose job it is to promote a healthy body-image (and do it well) can't escape the influence?
How did we get to this? One could blame capitalism, and a fashion industry making money by selling us unattainable ideals of perfection. But there's a problem with that explanation. I recently attended a talk by Ben Barry, creator of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. He pointed out that size zero isn't just immoral, it's also spectacularly bad business sense. Contrary to the assertions of fashion designers and modelling agencies, super-skinny, heavily-photoshopped models simply don't sell the clothes and cosmetics that they wear. The message they project is, "This product is out of your league. You're too fat, old or imperfect for it. Do not buy this product."
When Barry persuaded designers to switch to a diverse range of models (including overweight, older and disabled women) sales of the products went up, not down. Those who promote size zero aren't just doing it at the expense of womens' mental and physical health. They do it at the expense of their own profit margins. They've been driven mad by their own poison.
Have a look at this video. It shows the extent to which culture has distorted our own body-images. This isn't a healthy trend at all, and it needs to be challenged.
Zarathustra blogs at Mental Nurse
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